A year ago, Jack LaFontaine and Hayden Lavigne had just begun their collegiate careers as goaltenders for the Michigan hockey team.
For the sophomores, a lot has changed in one year.
Now, after the Ferris State series, the two have each started four games, have guarded the net during an overtime performance and have taken on leadership as the sixth man despite still being underclassmen.
This new experience and increased playing time has given the netminders an opportunity to reflect on their performances early on in the season.
“On a personal note, I am so far happy, but not overly satisfied with my performance,” LaFontaine said. “I think there’s some tweaks I need to work out right now, but I’m working towards that on and off the ice. I think I haven’t reached my max potential, and I’m hoping with a little hard work I can meet that.”
Lavigne reiterated this sentiment of a desire to improve, naming that he wanted to hone in on cadence behind the net.
“These games where we are only giving up 25 or (around) 20 shots, I kind of tend to doze off,” Lavigne said. “And that’s one area where I need to work on — being able to dial it in and eliminate those bad timing goals.”
The goaltenders have combined for five wins, and a solid goals-against average of 2.365. Though their amplified roles this season add more pressure, the two have realized the benefits of having a two-man rotation, as opposed to three.
“With a two-man rotation, you really get to stay in the game,” Lavigne said. “You know what it feels like from week to week, you know what you want to improve on from week to week, which actually makes it a lot easier.”
Added LaFontaine: “Having a two-man rotation is a little bit easier. You can catch more of a groove physically.”
Eight games in, Michigan coach Mel Pearson is looking to have a go-to man set in goal. This starter may even emerge in the Wolverines’ upcoming series, which would result in a change to this rotation.
“We’ve had a pretty good sample size of where they are at,” Pearson said. “They’ve both played well, so at this point you’re not going to bury one guy. At the same time, if one guy gets hot, then he’s going to have the opportunity to play consecutive games.”
With this in mind, LaFontaine and Lavigne still view themselves as a unit that works in cohesion.
“I wouldn’t say it’s much of a competition, as much as we are a team,” LaFontaine said.
Hughes Shows Skills on Both Ends
The youngest player in NCAA Division I hockey has already started making his mark on the Michigan team.
Freshman defenseman Quinn Hughes had a breakout performance in Thursday night’s Ferris State rout, which Pearson deemed the blueliner’s best performance thus far this season.
“He doesn’t surprise me anymore. That was his best game,” Pearson said after the game. “When he’s on the ice, I tell people you’d pay to watch him. You really would. He’s a special player.”
In the game, Hughes got off a shot in the first period and three in the second — the most launched by a defenseman in the outing. In addition to his offensive contributions, Hughes stood his ground in the defensive zone.
“He didn’t have any blatant turnovers (Thursday),” Pearson said. “He seemed to be on the right side of the puck, he picked his places where he could jump in and try some things offensively.
“I thought he was real good. I thought in both games (of the series) he was pretty good, but Thursday stood out to me.”
The expertise of balancing offensive playmaking with staying back on defense did not come automatically for Hughes.
In earlier games, Pearson noted that the freshman struggled more with turning the puck over and getting trapped when attempting to shine offensively.
But following the weekend, Pearson believes that these kinks have been ironed out, and that Hughes now knows how to choose his offensive spots wisely.
“He was trying to do a few too many things offensively, and put himself in sort of a bad position defensively,” Pearson said. “And I think he’s really grown and learned from that over the course of the last few weeks.”
Michigan’s already relatively small array of defensemen will continue to be a man down — at least for another week.
Senior Cutler Martin, one of the Wolverines’ most veteran defensemen, will likely be out of the lineup until after the Wisconsin series due to injury.
“He’s got an upper body injury, it’s sort of week to week right now,” Pearson said.
Martin got hurt during his first shift against Penn State on Oct. 28 while he was playing forward, and has been out ever since.
“He went to hit a guy and fell awkward into the boards,” Pearson said. “… Obviously he likes to play the physical game, and he doesn’t mind getting involved physically.”
As a multifaceted player, Martin adds depth to Michigan’s roster on both sides of the ice. But when he returns to full health in a few weeks, he is expected to come back on defense due to the shortage of defensemen available on the Wolverines’ line.
Added Pearson: “It will be good to get him back.”